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by Steve McCadams

Beginning January 1 of this year, a new law went into effect requiring Tennessee residents born after January 1, 1989 to pass a monitored TWRA boating safety exam if planning to operate a motorboat or personal watercraft on Tennessee waters.  The process for taking the exam is similar to getting a motor vehicle driver license.  The student can study the material anywhere and when sufficiently prepared, he/she pays $10 for the Type 600 Boating Safety Exam Permit at any business that sells hunting and fishing licenses.  The receipt from this transaction is the student’s “ticket” to get into an exam location. 

The exams are composed of 60 questions and take about an hour to complete.  “We are seeing close to a 50% failure rate so far this year.  Students need to know the material,” says Betsy Woods, TWRA Boating Education Coordinator.  Just as someone preparing to get a driver license needs to know what traffic signs mean and which vehicles have the right of way in certain situations, students need to have the same sort of knowledge on the water.  The exams are not a “give me”; the student must know the rules of the road on the water, what the navigation aids and regulatory markers mean, navigation light configurations, characteristics of PFDs (personal flotation devices) and which types to carry onboard and basic terminology as it applies to boats (port, starboard, etc.).

There are many venues available for studying the boating safety information; various internet sites, self study materials that the TWRA will provide at no cost, or one of the many excellent boating safety classroom courses offered by the U.S. Power Squadrons or U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.   There may be a fee for some classes, and some course providers charge a fee for other materials, but the bottom line is that there are free materials available for self study and the only charge a person must pay is the $10 for the Boating Safety Exam Permit.  This fee is good for as many times as it takes to pass the exam. 

Upon successful completion of a TWRA exam, a TWRA-issued wallet card will be mailed to the student and this card must be onboard the vessel when he/she is operating.  This wallet card is the only credential that is recognized for meeting the

requirements of this law for Tennessee residents.  Copies of this card will not be

accepted by law enforcement; however, duplicates (Type 605 Boating Certification Card) can be purchased from any business that sells hunting and fishing licenses for $5.00.

Boaters outside this age category are not affected by this law; however, some insurance companies give discounts on boat premiums if the boat owner can show proof of successful completion of a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators boating safety course.  To satisfy this need, simply take the free Boat Tennessee Home Study Course, a nationally approved internet course, or a classroom course provided by the U.S. Power Squadrons or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. But anyone, regardless of age, who wants the TWRA-issued wallet card, must prepay the $10 for the Type 600 Boating Safety Exam Permit and present the receipt at an exam location just as those born after January 1, 1989 must do. 

Non-Tennessee residents that fall within this age requirement must be able to show an approved boating safety education certificate as proof of successful completion of a course.  This law does not apply to anyone renting a vessel and whose name is on the rental agreement.  A person must be 12 years old to operate a vessel alone and have in his/her possession the boating education wallet card.  If an operator of a boat in this age bracket has an adult on board to take immediate control of the vessel, then he/she does not need to have this card.  Log onto  to find exam dates, locations, and times in your area or call the automated information line at 1-800-837-6012.


Steve McCadams is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing area. He has also contributed many outdoor oriented articles to various national publications.



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